Clubs’ work in the inner city deserves everyone’s attention

Walter Chapman

By Walter K. Chapman

Richard Starr is an inspiration.

Like a lot of inner-city kids, Richard struggled to find himself during his teenage years. His father was in prison.  His mother worked two jobs to provide for the family.  Richard could have become a statistic, another victim of the streets.  Instead, he found the King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club, one of a dozen or so site operated by Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.  There – and at East Tech High School – he flourished in the classroom and on the playing field.

Today, Richard, 26, is the director of the very same Club that gave him direction.

Richard is one of dozens of success stories that have emerged from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, where I have been a board member for the past 27 years.  You can’t help but be energized by Richard.  He has such enthusiasm and passion for the work – and for his Club kids. He is a great example for all of us, whether we live in the city, the suburbs or the country. Richard is not just talented and passionate.  He is resilient.

I point to Richard’s story because it shows how important it is for our community – and I mean that in the very broadest sense – to give hope and opportunity to the kids who need us most.  That is what Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland has been doing for more than 60 years.  We provide safe, fun places for kids to go after school and on Saturdays – the times when they are most vulnerable to getting into trouble.  At our Clubs, we help kids with homework and offer programs in art, music, athletics, reading and job readiness.  And we strive to show our kids how to give back to the community and be good citizens.

This work is not just important.  It is vital.   Our children have never been at greater risk than they are today. In Cleveland, young lives are being lost to violence and gangs. Low high school graduation rates extend the cycle of poverty. Boys & Girls Clubs are doing something about this, and this work is deserving of widespread support in Greater Cleveland. To paraphrase, we are not giving fish to our kids; we are teaching them to fish.  We help them seize opportunities to grow even in the most difficult of circumstances by providing help with everything from math homework to college applications. We’ve even launched a workforce development program for kids who aren’t pursuing a secondary education but want good jobs.  Employers are paying attention.

I was fortunate to grow up as the son of two philanthropically minded parents, which in turn has helped me appreciate non-profits that steward their resources effectively. My work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland has been both compelling and fulfilling. This is an organization on a mission to go into our toughest neighborhoods to help the most vulnerable and impressionable, and they are very good at it.

Richard credits the Clubs with turning his life around.  And he is not alone. In a nationwide Harris survey of alumni, more than 50 percent of the respondents said the Club experience saved their lives. Think about that for a minute.  It is a powerful statement … and it begs us to consider how many more we can save.